It was exciting enough to be one of the few writers invited to WOW Fitness Festival by the Telluride Tourism Board, but while there, I hit some sort of exercise nirvana. Outside on my yoga mat with the Rocky Mountains in plain sight, I was certain today would be the day of 50 burpees! Just as I was ready to give it my all, our instructor noted we would be doing crunches. Wait just a minute, I thought to myself. No one does crunches anymore.
Crunches have taken a beating in recent years, and the claims are many: they're bad for your back, they encourage horrible posture, the don't work the muscles that matter . . . the list goes on and on. Our trainer for the day, Jonathan Ross, says this type of thinking is pretty typical of the industry he calls home. "The fitness world is all about extremes — first it was all about low intensity; now everything is about max intervals," says Jonathan. "Same goes with crunches. Once seen as the king of ab exercises, they're suddenly the worst thing you can do for yourself." It's time to get away from that, he says.
Crunches, he explains, are a natural movement: "Think about getting out of bed, for instance." The problem isn't the exercise; it's how people have been performing them. Even beyond proper form, Jonathan cites that there was a push to do as many crunches as possible in the blink of the eye. As is the case with any move, he says, "We need to do them correctly, in moderation." When done right, crunches challenge the muscles, help improve spine flexibility, and, best of all, can be built upon into more progressive and challenging exercises.
Jonathan's advice is simple: stop performing the exercise like you're on a crunch machine after downing a Red Bull. Instead, perform three sets of 10-20 slow and controlled reps. He also suggests keeping the torso open to help avoid postural issues; instead of keeping both hands behind the ears, extend one out to the side while in the movement. Doing this will also take some of the load off the rectus abdominis (aka, the six-pack) and activate other areas of the abs.
Before you get started, make sure to watch our primer on doing crunches correctly to ensure your form is on point!